Well this one is just a no brainer. Neil Gaiman. I mean, that’s enough said there. But then add Norse mythology to that (any kind of mythology, really)? Yes. All the yes. Plus, I listened to the audiobook, which (and I did not know this before I started listening) is read by Gaiman himself. The best kind of surprise! And it’s all absolutely as awesome as you’d expect.
There are so many things to love about this book. First, Gaiman’s introduction gives some great, nicely succinct, background information about Norse mythology, his interest in and research on the subject, and how much (sadly) has been lost to time. We also get a little intro to each of the main “players” (learning their characters traits and families), the ones whose names we are already probably familiar with: Odin, Thor, and Loki. The structure of the book moving past that starts with the creation myths, of the great ash tree Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds. We hear about how Odin sacrificed himself to himself in order to become the all-knowing god. We learn about how Thor got his hammer (and how it once got stolen and he had to dress as a woman to get it back). We are told about Loki’s many exploits and extortions, getting himself and the gods into and out of trouble, and the many times he is “forgiven” until the one time he is not. And then we see how the gods punish him. We are told some stories of the lesser gods, like when the god Frey falls in love with the giantess Gerd and what he trades in order to win her hand or about Idunn’s apples of immortality or about the mead of poets made from the blood of the god Kvasir. And in the end, we hear the description of how things will be at Ragnarok, the end of time, when the gods fall and a new world and people rise from the ashes. This is one of the most mystical and poetic descriptions of the end of time, really of anything, that I’ve ever read – it flows with a cold fluidity that is beautiful for all that it is about total destruction of our world.
Each story is started and told as if it is the first, a standalone, the way that it would have been told in oral tradition. References are made to previous stories and characters, but all are given with short explanations for the minor characters or complicated names that we, as new readers, may not remember. The tone is on point, timeless and charming, while still traditional. And the atmosphere these stories create are perfect for a cold winter night with a warm drink in hand and a hot fire burning. I can see how and why they were created, told, and retold, in ages past. On top of that, Gaiman’s pronunciation and cadence, as audiobook narrator, is everything.
I cannot say enough how much I loved this book – I fell right into each story, absorbed by the mythical and the magical, living within each tale as it was told. It was atmospheric and fascinating and educational and completely entertaining. Gaiman is a master storyteller in all senses of the word and I plan to recommend this collection to literally everyone.